Name: Tasha Marie Gillum
Location: Lynchburg, Va
Occupation: Bonner Leader Program Coordinator
Tasha Marie Gillum grew up being active and enjoying the terrain of Northern Virginia, but it took trying on – and selling – some different shoes to get her to the career in community enrichment and experiential education that she enjoys today.
After graduating from Sweet Briar College, Tasha had six months before she had to start paying back her student loans.
“I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and then returned to my mother’s house and sold shoes at a large outdoor retailer for a few months,” she recalls.
After years of being involved with outdoor education at her alma-mater, and having had life-altering experiences in nature as a result, Tasha knew that selling shoes wasn’t where she wanted to wind up.
“Being stuck indoors all day talking about getting outside was not beneficial to my soul,” she says. “I knew I wanted to run a college outdoor program and provide transformative experiences for other women, just as I had experienced.”
She went to work for outdoor schools in Central Virginia and Colorado before she went for her graduate degree in experiential education. She ran outdoor programs at University of Las Vegas, worked as faculty at the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming, and finally returned to Lynchburg.
“It was almost a decade after I graduated that I returned to give back to the program that meant so much to me as a young woman,” Tasha says.
“The Bonner Foundation’s motto is “Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve,”’ Tasha explains. “The Bonner Leader Program at the University of Lynchburg provides an “opportunity to serve” by leveraging work-study funding to enable students to earn money for college through their community work with local non-profits.”
Nearly 65 colleges and universities across the country are a part of the Bonner Program, which serves to provide financial access to college while simultaneously forwarding civic engagement.
Schools with Bonner Leaders are required to have a minimum of 75% of the participating students qualifying for Federal Work Study. These schools have the option to award students with “College Work-Study” or some other private source for the student stipends.
These leaders dedicate their undergraduate careers to making an impact through service, may it be as a part of social justice community projects, local nonprofits, or other affiliated agencies. Over their four years of education, they become engaged in community service that dovetails with their academic and co-curricular learning. They do this throughout the academic and social rigamarole of the college experience, all while helping to meet the needs of the greater Lynchburg community. Their experiences culminate in a capstone project that they create with and for the community partner they have worked with throughout their education. Tasha works with these students helping them along the way as a mentor and supervisor.
“I enjoy watching a student lean into the opportunity to identify who they are, who they want to be, and what impact they want to create with their lives,” she says. “Bonners are enthusiastic about learning and leading meaningful community work, they’re open to having conversations and becoming agents of change.”
In the current COVID world, Tasha is connecting the new class of Bonner Leaders to the Lynchburg community through virtual community engagement experiences while maintaining the requisite social distancing.
“It’s wonky as all get out!” Tasha admits. “Our community vibe is not lost, but we’re finding creative ways to cultivate and sustain it in a different way this semester.”
What message does this mountain biking, trail running, student mentoring leader coordinator have for young women growing up in this disconnected and reconnected world?
“Creating practices to listen to ourselves is the best direction we can receive. We are connected and intuitive beings. When you know, love and trust yourself, you’ve got all the answers you need to find direction.”
For her community engagement and connection to the Lynchburg Bonner Leader program, we think Tasha Marie Gillum is a very Cool Girl!
Learn more about the Bonner program at the links below!